During the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries have altered the way they do business. Health care is no exception. We’ve made a lot of changes to ensure that our members have safe and convenient access to the care they need. One important change we made was to expand coverage for telemedicine services.
Many doctors have moved their practices completely online to keep their patients safe at home. Even I had a chance to try a virtual doctor’s appointment for a recent follow-up visit.
My First Experience with Telemedicine
It has been nearly two years since I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare form of skin cancer. Now that I’ve finished my treatment, I get routine blood work every three months to keep an eye on things. Then, I follow up with my doctor for a consultation to review the results.
My most recent visit was done virtually with telemedicine. It wasn’t just my first virtual visit — it was also my doctor’s first virtual visit with a patient. I registered, made an appointment online, and was able to talk to my doctor just as I always did.
Along with good news from my doctor (that is, no concerns with my test results), the virtual visit was easy and convenient! I saved time and energy by skipping the drive and waiting time to see the doctor. Not to mention, I didn’t have to think about handwashing, wearing a mask, or social distancing since I stayed in my house.
I asked my doctor what he thought, and he was also happy with the advantages of telemedicine. I can see myself trying it again for future visits — pandemic or not.
Telemedicine for Caregivers
Along with my sister, I am also a caregiver for my parents. They are both going through cancer treatment right now. This time has helped me realize the advantages of telemedicine for caregivers, too.
Let me paint you a picture. My parents are in their 70s and live about an hour away from me. They are Greek immigrants. While they can write, speak, and understand English, they sometimes need a little help translating. And I wouldn’t exactly call them tech-savvy. When my mom found out her next oncology appointment would be virtual this past April, she asked for help. I drove down, set up a new iPad with the telemedicine app her doctor uses, and got her registered. Then, I gave a Telemedicine 101 lesson through their screen door. These are interesting times we are living in!
The day of her appointment, my mom, her doctor, and I were able to have a three-way appointment. Just like my appointment, it was easy and convenient. And as a caregiver, I was grateful that it reduced the stress from our family. I didn’t have to worry about my parents driving to the doctor or use vacation time from work to go with them. We collectively saved about four hours of time, and my mom received the appropriate care she needed.
Telemedicine Use Has Grown
Many in-network doctors offer virtual care options. Independence Blue Cross health plan members are covered for telemedicine visits with their primary care doctor or specialist, if available.
We also offer telemedicine as a safe and easy care option through MDLIVE, an independent company. MDLIVE doctors are available 24/7 for non-emergency medical conditions. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, they can also assess your symptoms and help determine what next steps of care are appropriate for you.
In just the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a huge increase in registrations for MDLIVE and in overall telemedicine use. In March 2020, we saw more than a 1,000 percent increase in MDLIVE registrations compared to past years. And from May 10 – 17, 2020, there were a total of 385,000 telemedicine visits — either with MDLIVE or a member’s own doctor. That’s an 842 percent increase from one month prior!
Mental health has also gone virtual. Just from March to April, we saw a 3,000 percent increase in members using tele-behavioral health services.
Think Outside the Doctor’s Office
In response to COVID-19, Independence Blue Cross has expanded telemedicine coverage to include virtual appointments for:
- Primary care
- Specialist visits (with the member’s doctor)
- Nutrition counseling
- Physical therapy (video only)
- Occupational therapy (video only)
- Speech therapy
- Urgent care
- Behavioral health
It’s easy to forget about your health and checkup appointments, especially during this time. My advice: Make yourself a priority. Take advantage of virtual care options and stay in touch with your doctors with telemedicine.
Based on the current health care environment, most health plans offer telemedicine options. Check with your employer or call the customer service number on the back of your health plan ID card to ask what telemedicine options your plan offers.